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Anna, A Prophet, Daughter of Phanuel

Anna, daughter of Phanuel, daughter of Asher [Greek]
Hannah, bat Peniel, bat Asher [Hebrew]

Preamble

The story of the "Presentation" of Jesus is told in the Gospel of Luke (Chapter 2:22-38). What the narrative relates is the redemption of the child, Jesus, at the Temple in Jerusalem according to Jewish custom and in keeping with the biblical injunction by which the first-born were to be redeemed (Num. 18:15-16). The redemption price for a first-born boy child was five shekels. [The Pidyon haben/redemption of the son applied only to male children]. According to tradition (recorded in later halakhic codes, e.g., Shulkhan Aruch and Yoreh De'ah) the child was presented after at least 30 days had passed after his birth.

The events related in the Gospel of Luke seems to combine the Redemption of the First Born with another obligation—that of the purification of the mother after childbirth. The purification ceremony required that the mother should bring two offerings to the Temple which the Kohen would offer on her behalf. The offerings, a burnt offering (olah) and a sin offering (hatat) were presented at the Temple after the completion of her period of impurity. The purpose of the hatat offering was the removal of ritual impurity following childbirth and the olah symbolized the mother's renewed capacity (she being no longer ritually impure) to approach the sanctuary. The "pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons" mentioned in the gospel text are the hatat and olah sacrifices to be offered by the mother who had insufficient means to present the designated lamb as an olah. A young pigeon or turtle dove remained the designated hatat offering for rich or poor (cf. Leviticus 12:1-8).

The redemption of Jesus becomes in the gospel a significant moment of prophetic importance as first Simeon, filled with the Holy Spirit, praises God, "...for my eyes have seen your salvation..." (Lk. 2:28-32) and Anna, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, also praises God and speaks of the redemption of Jerusalem. The purification of Mary related together with the redemption of the first-born in the gospel confuses the two events. However, the effect is to bolster Luke's intention which is to show that Jesus emerges out of Israel; out of Judaism, and that this reality is of foundational importance, giving meaning to Christianity. Prophetic characters throughout the Lukan infancy narrative anticipate subsequent events in the gospel narrative so that "the events that have been fulfilled" (1:1) and are revealed in the gospel are linked back to, and authenticated in, Jewish prophecy, experience and expectation. The infancy narrative of Luke's gospel, both within itself and as a prelude to the whole, creates a bridge between Israel and the realized revelation of God in and through Jesus which the Gospel of Luke and Acts recounts.

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Anna, Daughter of Phanuel, of the Tribe of Asher

The person of Anna, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher is a character often “glossed” over without much development.

One might ask the question, “What is the significance of the lineage of Anna in the narrative context?” Anna is the daughter of Phanuel. The name is Greek. The Hebrew form of Phanuel is Peniel or Penuel and means “face of God.” Anna’s name (from the Heb. Hannah) means “grace/gift”.

Is the tribe of Asher significant? The tribe is a northern tribe from the area of the Mediterranean coast adjacent to Zebulun and Naphtali in the western area of northern Galilee. This tribe, along with the other tribes of the northern kingdom, was dispersed in the first exile (7th century BCE). The presence of some of the tribe of Asher in Jerusalem may reflect the focus of returnees of all tribes from exile on Jerusalem as the religious center. Jerusalem had become a representative center for all of Israel, both nationally and religiously. However, the significance in relation to Anna’s connection may relate more to her connection with another “daughter” of Asher, one Serach bat Asher, who comes to us as a voice echoing down the ages through midrash.

Midrash has long noticed and developed the words pakod yifkod (take notice) in the context of God “taking notice” of the plight of Israel. The words become key words, code words, to indicate God's intention to act on behalf of the people of Israel in a redemptive way. The key to redemption is thus already embedded in the text...

“God will surely take notice (pakod yifkod) of you and bring you up from this land to the land that He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” So Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “When God has taken notice (pakod yifkod) of you, you shall carry up my bones from here” (Gen. 50:24-25).

Midrash read into pakod yifkod a hidden message that was contained also in God’s instruction to Moses to tell the people...

“Go and assemble the elders of Israel and say to them: the Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has appeared to me and said, ‘I have taken note (pakod pakadti) of you and of what is being done to you in Egypt’” (Ex. 3:16).

The hidden message contained in pakod yifkod is the promise of redemption. This secret code, according to midrash, has been preserved and entrusted to transmission...

The letters were given over to Abraham, who gave them to Isaac, who gave them to Jacob, who gave them to Joseph, who have them to his brothers, one of whom, Asher, son of Jacob, gave the secret of redemption over to Serach, daughter of Asher. So when Moses and Aaron came to the elders of Israel and performed signs before their eyes, the elders went to their elder, Serach, daughter of Asher, and told her: “A man has come who performed certain signs before our eyes.” She told them: “There is nothing to these signs!” They then said: “But he told us, Pakod pakadti—‘God has surely taken notice of you...’” She responded: “That is the man who is destined to redeem Israel from Egypt. For that is what I have heard from my father: ‘Peh, peh—as it is said, pakod pakodti—I have taken notice of you.’” Immediately the people believed in God and in Moses, as it is said, “And the people believed, when they heard that God had taken note—pakad—of the children of Israel (Ex. 4:31).
[Pirke de Rabbi Eleazer 48, quoted in Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture, 2001; cf. Exodus Rabbah 5:13-14.]

The association of pakod pakadti with conception and birth has also been noted. The Lord took note—pakad—of Sarah (Gen. 21:1). The subsequent birth of Isaac has been the starting date for Israel’s counting of the days in captivity in Egypt, 430 years from the birth of Isaac to the start of the exodus.

Serach bat Asher (daughter of Asher) is the keeper and interpreter of the secret code pakod pakadti. In the Lukan infancy narrative Anna (another daughter of Asher) announces the secret of redemption to another generation who seeks redemption. Anna, herself described as an old woman like the ancient Serach, now becomes the voice that interprets pakod pakadti for those that await redemption. Anna, filled with divine grace, daughter of one whose name reflects that place where Jacob/Israel experienced “the face of God;” Anna, herself heir to the secret of redemption, is able to praise God and speak about the child now born, to all who seek the redemption of Jerusalem. God has once again, taken notice, and Anna is the prophetic witness to the fact.

"The redemption of Jerusalem" —Political references in Luke

Around the time of the first Jewish revolt against Rome (i.e. c. 68 CE) there circulated Jewish coins with the words “For the liberation/freedom of Zion.” Again, around the time of the 2nd revolt (c. 135 CE - Bar Kockba) the coins bore the inscription “Year ‘x’ of the liberation of Jerusalem” or “Year ‘x’ of the liberation of Israel.”

Luke (24:21) tells us Jesus is the one who, they hoped, was “the one who was to liberate Israel.” These words seem to echo the political context of the time and may well have referred to both the experienced reality and the spiritual dimension of such a liberation. What is very interesting is that these words (Lk. 24:21) echo exactly the midrash about Serach bat Asher who, it is said, told the Elders of Israel that Moses was “The man who is about to liberate Israel.”

The occurrence of the words in Luke makes an even stronger case for a Lukan connection between Anna bat Phanuel (of Asher) and the midrashic tradition which Luke has received within the early Christian community. It helps us to understand, at least in part, some the early inferences that Christians were drawing from the significance of Jesus. As such, what is reflected may be a very early understanding, and Luke has probably included it as a way to move from the liberation of temporal oppression to an eschatological liberation to come. This seems particularly likely since Luke’s intended readers were probably in the Diaspora and would have been, in large part, Gentile.

Etz Hayim—“Tree of Life” © 2009
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and liturgical self-consciousness and cooperation.
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Elizabeth Young, © 2008 Etz Hayim—“Tree of Life”

     
     
 

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